Panic Time for Pelosi

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has had a bad week. Caught between her own involvement in the CIA interrogations now condemned as torture and her party’s inquisitions, Pelosi floundered.  Her fear and frustration have apparently given way to panic after word reached her of the CIA’s reaction to the damage she, President Obama and other Democrats have done to the spy agency in the last three months.

Pelosi — as I wrote earlier in the week — was one of the few members of Congress briefed in detail on the harsh interrogation methods and who could have stopped them but didn’t. Pelosi first said that she wasn’t briefed about waterboarding. Then she sort of admitted she had, inserting that the CIA only said that they might do it, not that they were going to do it.  Which could have been plagiarized from John Kerry’s 2004 circular explanation of his vote for the war in Iraq.

As badly as that hurt Pelosi, what apparently pushed her into a panic was the feedback she and other Democrats are getting from the CIA.  Pelosi learned that her actions, and those of President Obama and other Democrats over the past ninety days have so damaged CIA morale that the agency’s ability to function could be in danger. 

As a result, two emergency closed-door meetings were called this week on Capitol Hill.

The first meeting, on Tuesday evening, was attended by Pelosi, Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes (D-Tx) and others.  The following night, Pelosi and some or all of the other attendees met with CIA Director Leon Panetta, also behind closed doors. 

No Republicans were invited to either meeting which means the Democrats were assessing the damage and deciding how to maneuver their way out from under the responsibility for it.  Spin and strategy. 

Morale among in the spy agency is so low because of the relentless assault on the CIA in President Obama’s first 100 days.  The first blow to the CIA was his decision to close the terrorist detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba without any plan on what to do with the 240 dangerous detainees housed there.  Many CIA employees believe these people to be killers, responsible for the deaths of CIA operatives overseas.   Many in the CIA apparently see this as a betrayal. 

The Obama administration plan to set some of these people loose in the US was despite CIA objections.

And then came the president’s decision to release the so-called “torture memos” and the disavowal of CIA interrogation methods. 

The president’s on-again, off-again promise to not prosecute CIA operatives who had conducted the harsher interrogations has left many in the CIA uncertain of his real intentions.  Leaving up to the Attorney General whether to prosecute the Bush-era lawyers who wrote the “torture memos” has added to the already great doubt about the safety and security of CIA interrogators’ jobs, and more.

By the end of the meeting Wednesday, Pelosi, Reyes and Panetta apparently determined that damage control had to begin immediately.   

Later Wednesday evening, Reyes sent an unprecedented letter to CIA director Panetta making a sort of apology to the CIA.  Reyes’ cover letter asks Panetta to “…disseminate it to the CIA workforce as soon as possible.”  (At this writing, the letter has not yet been distributed.)  The letter to CIA employees is a very odd mixture of praise for the CIA and CYA for Reyes.  (Click here to read the letter)

Reyes begins, “In recent days, as the public debate regarding CIA’s interrogation practices has raged, you have been very much in my thoughts,” expressing his “…deep gratitude for the work you do each day.”  

But then Reyes retreats into lawyer-isms:  “First and foremost, I wholeheartedly support the President’s decision that no CIA officer or contractor will be prosecuted for authorized actions they took in the context of interrogations.”  In other words, if some young prosecutor or Capitol Hill staffer decides you did something unauthorized, you’re sunk.

And then comes the CYA for Reyes:  “One important lesson to me from the CIA’s interrogation operations involves congressional oversight. I’m going to examine closely ways in which we can change the law to make our own oversight of the CIA more meaningful; I want to move from mere notification to real discussion.” 

The fact that “mere notification” of the interrogation methods was comprised of a virtual tour of them matters not at all: Reyes’ letter says Congress should be held innocent of any wrongdoing.  If CIA morale was bad before the letter, it will be vastly worse after it. 

Worst of all is the next sentence:  “Good oversight can lead to partnership, and that’s what I am looking to bring about.”  If there’s anything that could possibly make the CIA even less effective than it was before 9-11, that’s it.  The nation’s security requires that the CIA be strengthened and more effective, not bogged down with congressional tourism.  

And, by the way, what Reyes proposes is unconstitutional because it violates the separation of powers doctrine. Not that Reyes would care.   But the prospect of more Congressional involvement is just another morale killer. 

Obama’s first 100 days did enormous damage to our entire intelligence community.  It’s all too clear that Speaker Pelosi will do much more if she believes it will help her out of the corner she’s in.  Panicked people make mistakes.  Pelosi has made a big one in propelling the inquisition into the CIA interrogations  She will make more, and the damage to our intelligence gathering ability may be fatal to many Americans.